WTO negotiators drill down on subsidies for fishing in disputed waters
A key World Trade Organization ministerial meeting has been postponed due to the rise of the omicron variant of COVID-19, but negotiators are planning to meet again soon to narrow differences on a draft agreement to curb harmful fishing subsidies.
Among the items up for discussion are Article 11.3 of the draft agreement, concerning the prohibition of subsidies for fishing in disputed waters. Members are divided as to whether to allow third parties to request WTO dispute-settlement proceedings be dismissed if the territory in which the dispute centers is contested. This provision will be of special interest to China, which claims most of the South China Sea, despite contesting claims to parts of the area from several Southeast Asian nations.
Provisions for special and differential treatment for developing countries and limitations to fuel subsidies non-specific to fisheries will also be discussed at the upcoming meeting.
Isabel Jarrett, manager of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ reducing harmful fisheries subsidies program, said she remained cautiously optimistic about the potential for a deal. But she said several elements of the draft agreement– in particular, loopholes that would allow subsidies to be paid if fish stocks are deemed to be sustainable – are causing her concern.
“What we would like to see is that under Article 5 the prohibition for fuel costs remains,” she told SeafoodSource. “Similarly, we would like to see the prohibition on subsidies to vessels not flying the flag of the subsidizing member cemented in the text.”
Large numbers of fishing vessels are registered in third-countries, including numerous Chinese-operated vessels in West Africa flying the flags of Ghana and Sierra Leone.
Photo courtesy of Volodymyr Kyrylyuk/Shutterstock